Italy. April 2016. The most dangerous news by Ossigeno
This monthly review of acts of intimidation in Italy is produced by Ossigeno per l’Informazione for the European Center for Print and Media Freedom of Leipzig (ECPMF), with the support of the European Union
April in numbers
In April 2016, Ossigeno per l’Informazione has reported 15 incidents of threats and acts of intimidation against 26 media workers. The counter, which records in the Table of the victims of acts of intimidation and confirmed abuse cases since 2006, has so far reached 2818. From January 1, 2016 145 names have been added to the Table.
The types of acts of intimidation include: Death Threats, Mild Aggressions, Insults, Damages to goods and personal items or work tools, Abuses of the Law, Lawsuit for Libel deemed specious, Obstacles to information.
According to Ossigeno estimates, for every act of intimidation known and documented, at least ten others remain unknown even to the Observatory, because the victims do not have the strength to make them public.
The Council of Europe is thinking about creating Observatories like Ossigeno in each country.
In order to promptly and accurately learn about the most serious violations of press freedom in each country, there would need to be an independent national monitoring body to do what in Italy Ossigeno per l’Informazione has done in recent years. The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Nils Muiznieks, said on 21 April in Strasbourg, to the Director of Ossigeno, Alberto Spampinato (Read Here) and explained it thoroughly in his interview for the recurrence of May 3rd, World Press Freedom Day. Among other things, he said that from his vantage point, the freedom of the press appears under attack everywhere and is losing ground. To reverse the decline, he added, it is necessary to know well the situation on the ground, country by country. How? According to Muiznieks this task can be done well only by national observation centers and not from global organizations looking at the broader scale of the phenomenon and with no reliable verification networks in countries where violations occur.
And in the same days, a similar appeal arrived by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which addressed detailed recommendations to the governments of the 47 member countries. It is interesting to note that these recommendations come from the same body that two years ago set up the Quick Platform alert and rapid response to threats to journalists and to press freedom by entrusting it to those international organizations that observe the phenomenon on a global scale. It is evident that the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe considers local monitoring necessary and calls on governments to take responsibility for organizing it through autonomous public agencies from the governments and managed with the participation of civil society, or to adequately support non-governmental organizations in being able to do so.
It will be necessary also in the most advanced European countries since – as demonstrated by the Ossigeno investigation in Italy and as explained by Commissioner Muiznieks – it is now clear that acts of intimidation, threats, abuses against journalists occur ubiquitously even in Western countries and they are not visible only because the media do not talk about the way they should, as Ossigeno has instead documented at length.
The Observation of the threats against journalists and other press freedom violations committed with violence and abuse requires a specific methodology and a special expertise, specialized observatories. From April 12th to 21st, with meetings in Strasbourg, Berlin and Madrid, Ossigeno has made available all the experience gained over the last ten years in this field: the specific expertise, the scientific method of observation, the ability to train observers, the collaboration to begin to observe intimidation and threats and report them so as to obtain the commitment of the government to tackle the problem. The meetings were a success. The participants said that in Spain and in Germany numerous acts of intimidation against journalists occur and yet it is not possible to make them public. Ossigeno has established in this field a partnership with associations that operate in both countries. Initiatives and similar meetings will be held in the coming months in other European countries.
On April 12th, Reporters Without Borders has released the new annual ranking of the various countries with respect to the level of freedom of the press. Italy has lost four further positions. Now it is in 77th place out of 180 countries. It is the European Union’s black sheep, and it is precisely because of the high number and severity of threats and acts of intimidation against journalists and bloggers. Ossigeno has commented recognizing that the Italian situation is actually very bad and has gotten worse in the last year, but questioned the placement in the ranking calling it arbitrary and unjustified. In fact without the data from Ossigeno per l’Informazione (528 journalists threatened in 2015), the result of a specific, methodid and active search that is not done in other European countries, in that ranking Italy would not be in different position from the likes of France or Germany, which obtained much better placements. (Read the comment here). In these and in other countries, the seriousness of the situation is still not in full light because the will to observe it as it deserves is lacking. The same happened in Italy until a few years ago, until that is Ossigeno did not invent the “Revealer of Hidden Censorship” and began using it.
In recent years, thanks to the information collected with this tool, the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is based in Vienna, addressed numerous references to the Italian Government requesting it to better protect journalists and to respect the international right also on matters of defamation, said Professor Joan Barata, former adviser to Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE Representative on freedom of the Media. Barata said on April 14th, 2016 in Madrid during the conference at the University Rey Juan Carlos which was attended, along with Alberto Spampinato and Federica Delogu of Ossigeno, by the Spanish organizations such ASSOCIACION de Periodistas Europeos, the Plataforma en Defensa de la Libertad de informacion, the Departamento de la Ciencia de la Comunicaciòn I Despacho of the University Rey Juan Carlos. The meeting paved the way for initiatives that aim to extend monitoring to the Iberian Peninsula.
Two days before in Berlin, Ossigeno had organized a meeting – which will be followed by others in Germany and Italy – with the association “Mafia? Nein Danke!” to discuss how to combat the violence and specious legal proceedings against reporters. The German journalists, representatives of NGOs, the defenders of freedom of the press who attended, said that even in Germany the media workers feel the need to keep under observation continuously the threats against journalists and bloggers and the abuses of the law that hinder the dissemination of news.
In Strasbourg the Director of Ossigeno was invited by the Cultural Commission of the Council of Europe and has related how a successful collaboration between the Observatory and the Italian Parliament was achieved, how the Ossigeno investigation helped the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission to make its own investigation on threatened journalists, how this initiative has helped journalists in dire straits because of the threats, how this has prompted the Chamber of Deputies to make commitments for a number of legislative changes to reduce and tackle the problem of acts of intimidation and threats against journalists. Spampinato has presented this Italian experience as a good practice that needs to be known. The Commission is producing a report to suggest forms of cooperation between investigative journalism and national parliaments, which are useful for combating corruption.
In Italy, in the meanwhile there was an important signal of the efficacy of the current initiatives: in a few months the One-Stop-Shop Legal Desk set up by Ossigeno – which offers free legal assistance to journalists and bloggers who do not have the means to do so – has become a reference point for reporters who do not have adequate personal resources nor the support of publishers willing to help them in the defence against spurious lawsuits and other instrumental judicial initiatives. Requests for help from the reporters and bloggers are many, and for now it is not possible to meet them all, relying on a tight budget allocation (currently only the one provided by MLDI, an NGOs based in London).
Furthermore, what also arouses interest is the wealth of knowledge that Ossigeno has acquired on the threats against those journalists who deal specifically with news and investigations on the Mafia. On 14 April in Rome, the secretary of Ossigeno, Giuseppe F. Mennella, has been heard in a hearing by the special committee on Mafia infiltration and organized crime established by the Regional Council of Lazio.
The most worrying episodes – Also in April the list of documented threats and acts of intimidation is not short. Let’s begin from the sports world. In March we reported several incidents which indicated how, in the environment, the journalist is often considered an official paid by the sports clubs and therefore should be limited to report uncritically the record of matches and competitions, without embarrassing questions and without criticizing athletes, coaches and executives. Consequently, those who do dare to tell what is happening around the competitions, to reveal about real or alleged offenses in the sports world, is likely to be the victim of threats and retaliation. Let’s see how some recent episodes illustraste this reality
Some would-be supporters have threatened and insulted a journalist and a judge states that the journalist was unwise. It happened to Roberto Pelucchi, of La Gazzetta dello Sport, the Italian bestselling sports newspaper: insulted by fans of Atalanta (the soccer team Bergamo) for an article published in 2014, on April 1 he had bear witness of being told by the judge that had to rule on the complaint of the intimidation suffered, that with his article he had behaved life “a person who breaks into a run down the street of Pamplona during the festival” (the bull run), and that in sports “a generic insult can be acceptable”.
Even more serious is what happened to Max Laudadio, envoy of the satirical newscast of Canale 5 Striscia La Notizia: he was threatened with death from a phone call one of his collaborators received from a man involved in a report (realized by the journalist in 2013) on alleged frauds linked to charity works. “I know where he lives, I’ll come and get him and he can go to the police if he likes. His life is worth two cents” the author of the threats said.
Victims of aggression, on March 23, were three journalists of the news web site of LoStrillone.tv. Already in the car ready to go after having taked some photographs on the site of a road accident in Torre Annunziata (in the province of Naples), they were surrounded by three men, one of whom then hit with a fist in the face the reporter Gennaro Carotenuto.
Laura Bonasera, reporter for the tv news show Piazza Pulita (broadcast on La7) and videomaker Sirio Timossi were the victims of an aggression occurred as they were shooting footage for a television report on the condition of Indian and Pakistani workers in the Pontine Marshes. During the attack, also a video camera was damaged.
Worrying is what happened to the reporter of Radio Popolare Flavia Mosca Goretta: on April 7, the Supreme Court sentenced her, upholding the judgment of the Court of Turin, for having introduced herself in 2011 in an area subject to an order of interdiction for following the story of a group of No TAV activists (the high-speed rail line under construction between Italy and France) in the Val di Susa. The fine for the reporter is of only 100 Euros but, as written by the chief editor of Radio Popolare Mr Michele Migone, “the message that the Supreme Court sends us is a very dangerous one. It tells us that a journalist has to make do, stay away from the epicenter of an event, not document it from close by, stay a step behind, stop in front of the limits and prohibitions”.
Victim of a hacker attack, shortly before midnight on April 13th, 2016, was instead La Voce di Venezia. The attempt to hack in the computer systems failed for the website, but not for the Facebook page where the hackers took over the several profiles and posted gruesome photos as comments to article posts, all branded by the logo Insane-Army.
An ugly episode occurred on April 10th against the publisher Shockdom during Fiera del Fumetto di Roma (Rome’s Comics Show): in an attempt to damage the copies of a work which satyrizes on Benito Mussolini, three members of a far-right group have ruined some publications, pouring on them a carbonated beverage. The gesture was recorded and posted on Facebook by one of the authors.
The journalist Nello Trocchia, of the television program La Gabbia (broadcast on La7) was mocked and blocked like a rugby player from a detail agent of the Minister Maria Elena Boschi: it happened on April 5th in Rome, while the reporter was trying to ask a question to the minister. No one then thought of having to apologize to him.
Insults – “Liar” and “unworthy” were insults the journalist David Camarrone receved on Facebook on March 19th by a man who did not like one of his reports – one produced by Camarrone four days before for the regional television RAI news cast – on the eviction of an apartment he owned in Palermo. The journalist decided to press charges against him.
Instead, Lucia Portolano, chief editor of Brindisi Today, was accused of doing gossip and asking “unintelligent” questions. It occurred on March 30th, during a conference, whenNando Marino, mayoral candidate for the Democratic Party in Brindisi (in the Puglia region), also showed impatience towards another journalist, Roberta Grassi (who works for the ANSA news agency and the newspaper Nuovo Quotidiano di Puglia).
Good News from the Courts
It took ten years, but in the end the reporter Francesco Celardo was acquitted – “because the crime does not exist” – from the charge of libel. He had been denounced by the relatives of a deceased person of whom he had written in 2005 in one of his articles on Cronache di Napoli Thus, the Court of Appeal of Salerno overturned the first instance ruling of 2013 which condemned both the reporter, for omitted due diligence, and the chief editor of the news outlet, inflicting them a 600 Euro fine and to pay up damages for 50 thousand euro.
Same fate for the journalists Nicola Piccenna and Rocco Antonio Grilli: on 6 April theCourt of Salerno acquitted them from charges of libel. They had been sued by former Senator Emilio Nicola Buccico, who had not enjoyed seven articles, published between 2006 and 2007 in the weekly Il Resto, regarding a known investigation of years past (Toghe Lucane) in the Basilicata region.
Furthermore, the Justice of the Peace of the Grosseto court sentenced the former president of Grosseto Football Club for the threats that in 2012 he made to the journalist Matteo Alfieri of La Nazione. The patron of the Tuscan team had threatened Alfieri on the phone “guilty” of having written of the dispute he had had with Urbano Cairo, president of Torino club.
Updates and other facts
He was arrested on April 20th, as part of an investigation called “Cosa Pulita” (“Clean Coast”) by the Anti-Mafia District Directorate of Catanzaro (in the Calabria region), a man who authored in 2011 the threats against the journalist Pietro Comito. Two articles published in the newspaper Calabria Ora, which said of a possible arrival of the Anti-mafia Access Commission in some towns of the Vibo Valentia area, had pushed the man, belonging to a ‘Ndrangheta group group, to send a threat letter to the journalist.
The mob boss Gianbattista Ventura will remain in prison in Ragusa (Sicily), where he is already because other crimes: it was decided on 16 April by the Court of Catania, because of repeated threats, aggravated by the mafia method, addressed to the journalist Paolo Borrometi, editor of La Spia and correspondent for the AGI news agency.
Michele Buoninconti was sentenced to six months in prison for injury. He was the author of the murder (for which he is serving thirty years in prison) of the wife Elena Ceste: in 2014 the man had in fact attacked the Mediaset journalist Laura Magli in front of the house of his wife’s parents.
On the other hand the journalist Piero Ostellino, the former chief editor of Corriere della Sera Ferruccio De Bortoli and the newspaper publisher, RCS will have to compensate four judges (with 20 thousand euro each). This was decided by the Court of Milan, which has condemned them for defamation because of an article in which Ostellino accused the four magistrates, who were part of the Court which confirmed in 2013, making it final, the sentence to 4 years in prison for Silvio Berlusconi, accused of tax fraud, of having acted for political purposes.
Instead, even the known presenter Michelle Hunziker and the reporter of the satyrical news reel Striscia La Notiizai, Max Laudadio, whom was mentioned above, risk ending up behind bars: on April 15th the prosecutor of Rimini called for their conviction for defamation against a man protagonist of a report broadcast in 2010.
Silvano Eicher Clere will be tried for slander. President of a local authority that manages the forests of Costalta di Cadore (in the province of Belluno), who had sued for libel the journalist Lucio Eicher Clere (the two are not related), following an article in 2011 published in the newspaper Il Gazzettino di Venezia whre he was criticized for the amount of certain reimbursements received. Following the pressing of the charges, the journalist had suffered a house search and the seizure of computers and other digital equipment.
Also the journalist Davide Falcion will go to trial. It was decided on April 4th by the judge for the preliminary hearings of the Court of Turin. He is accused of conspiring to trespass. Falcioni is also investigated, since October 2015, for trespassing, domestic violence, corruption, threats, unauthorized access to computer systems and resisting arrest. The cause, in both cases, is a report produced in 2012 for the news site Agoravox, for the making of which he had followed the protesters of the No Tav movement in an action of protest in Turin.
They were indicted for libel also the chief editor of TG4 Mario Giordano and the journalist Giancarlo Padovan: during an episode broadcast on February 2014 of the Mediaset television show “Tiki Taka”, they had accused the football referee Nicola Rizzoli of ‘bad faith’ for some of his decisions during a match. The trial will be held in Bologna.
The Council of the Order of Journalists of Tuscany asked in early April for the archiving of the complaint filed in October 2015 by the lawyers of the Criminal Chamber of Rome against 97 journalists who recounted the events related to the known “Mafia Capital” investigation. The reporters are accused of violating Article 114 of the Criminal Procedure Code, publishing verbatim parts of the acts of the judicial proceedings still under investigation phase. According to the Order of Tuscany, the journalists have only done their job, publishing useful information to the community.
On 22 March the President of the Municipal Council of Anzio, Sergio Borrelli, has publicly apologized to the journalist Giovanni Del Giaccio for having compared his behavior to that of an “infamous person” during a Council of last November. Borrelli, who had suffered the publishing of an article by the journalist, was sued for defamation by Del Giaccio in January. The journalist has accepted the apology, stating that he will not object to the request of archiving for the proceedings for defamation, advanced in March by the Court of Velletri.
In the end, Facebook has decided to make the wisest choice, following the provisions of the judge for the preliminary investigations of Reggio Emilia who on March 8th had established the darkening of the page “Muslims of Italy – Community”, in which appeared offensive and vulgar content towards the Resto del Carlino journalist Benedetta Salsi. Initially, however, the popular social network had refused to remove them because, as a journalist, Salsi would be a public figure, and therefore, according to the website rules, subject to different rules than the rest of the people.
It has been removed from the Internet, on March 28, also a Youtube video made by journalist Klaus Davi, containing the audio recording of the fake Carabiniere that he had photographed a few days earlier while trying to interview in Gallico (Reggio Calabria) Eddy Branca, son of the alleged ‘Ndrangheta boss Giovanni Tegano. The episode is also the focus of a parliamentary inquiry. Davi complains that the removal was communicated without possibility of appeaingl, and that also his request for clarification submitted to Google, owner of YouTube, did not receive a reply.
Links to incidents of intimidation
For having told of the eviction of a family from an apartment occupied illegally, Davide Camarrone has been called “a liar” and “an unworthy”
Piero Ostellino, Ferruccio De Bortoli and RCS will have to pay 20 thousand euro each to the Judges who in 2013 condemned Berlusconi
Gennaro Carotenuto and two other colleagues of LoStrillone.tv were assaulted while trying to document an accident. Solidarity from the trade union of Campania
Lucia Portolano was accused by Nando Marino of producing gossip and ask not very intelligent questions. Local journalists ask for an action from the Order of the Puglia region
Davide Falcioni will be prosecuted for “complicity in trespassing”. In August of 2012 he was making a report for the website Agoravox
He got closer to ask a question about Tempa Rossa. He was also mocked. “Respect is needed” said the journalist of La Gabbia. The comment by Ossigeno
Roberto Pelucchi of La Gazzetta dello Sport had been attacked by fans of the Atalanta club for an article published in October 2014. According to the judge, the reporter was unwise
“I’m coming to kill you all” a man involved in a 2013 report on alleged scams related to charity works shouted over the phone
Flavia Mosca Goretta of Radio Popolare in 2011 had followed a protest in the Susa Valley. On 7 April 2016, the Supreme Court has upheld the first instance judgment
Tried for seven articles on the investigation “Lucan Togas” published on the weekly Il Resto and not appreciated by the plaintiff, former Senator Emilio Nicola Buccico
The incident at the comics’ fair of Rome. A group of far-right militants contested the works by Fabbri and Antonucci, which lampoons on Mussolini
Francesco Celardo had been denounced by the relatives of a deceased person mentioned in an article in 2005 on the discovery of a drug storage deposit
In 2011 Pietro Comito received a threat letter at the newsroom of Calabria Ora. Parliamentary inquiry on security, signed by the M5S
Laura Bonasera, reporter for Piazza Pulita (a TV show broadcast on La7) and the video maker Sirio Timossi have been the victims of an assault during a television report on the condition of Indian and Pakistani workers in the Pontine Marshes. After gathering the testimonies of the workers, who get paid € 2.50 per hour, some farmers have chased the reporter and the cameraman to intimidate and threaten them. During the attack also a video camera has been damaged.
Gruesome pictures published on the news site’s web page, identified by the Insane-Army logo. The chief editor: “The distress was for the readers”